Steady: Kawhi Leonard had the answer each time the Kings made it close. Leonard shut the door on a Kings comeback in the third by driving down the lane for a ferocious dunk, before following that up with a pull-up jumper and a free throw. Leonard added a triple and a fadeaway jumper in the fourth to seal the win.
Timing is everything
Despite a decent — not great — outing on Wednesday, the Raptors are obviously playing at a high level and, rightfully, with a ton of confidence. It’s helped the team remains unnerved as opponents turn up the volume, and that’s led to some timely plays and baskets.
On Wednesday the Kings made several small runs that were quashed by a timely shot or two, and whenever the score seemed like it was getting close the Raptors would soar out to a double-digit lead before you had time to blink.
After taking a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, a De’Aaron Fox floater with five minutes or so left in the game cut the Raptors’ lead to 106-99. Time to panic? Not quite. On the next possession, Leonard got a mismatch on the perimeter and drilled a three-pointer. The next time up the floor Ibaka nailed a three of his own, followed by a charge taken by Lowry on the defensive end. Just like that it was 112-101, and the game was effectively over.
Frustration over fouls
The disparity of foul calls was an issue for the Kings early.
Coach Dave Joerger appeared to be upset over the lack of whistles in the Kings’ favor and was hit with a technical foul just past the halfway point of the second quarter. The Raptors were 15 of 17 from the free-throw line before the break. The Kings? Just 3 of 6.
Nemanja Bjelica was also T’d up after reacting to being called for a foul in the third, prompting the crowd to voice their displeasure with the officiating.
Toronto took advantage of its trips to the line, shooting 21 of 23 (91.3 percent).
The first quarter started off with the Sacramento Kings playing some really good basketball, led by their main guy in De’Aaron Fox who was getting shots to go early. Buddy Hield started off slow, missing the majority of his shots but we got to see Bogdan Bogdanovic for the first time and he made five quick points on a layup and a three. The Toronto Raptors started the quarter slow, but the threes were going in and they eventually took over on a late run to end the first quarter.
The second quarter also went Toronto’s way, as they scored 35 points in that quarter led by the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. Fox and Willie were the Kings best players but they would still trail at the end of the first half.
The third quarter featured some terrible officiating, even worse than the first two quarters. The Kings made a big run to get the game to 78-71, but the refs decided to step in and help the already 10-1 Raptors, who would then go on an 8-0 run after the jump ball “foul” on Willie. Troy Williams made dunks and Buddy Hield caught fire, but the quarter still ended 94-78. Thanks, refs.
The Kings started the quarter with some bench players but when the starters came in, the game completely switched momentum in Sacramento’s favor. They made it 106-99 with Willie making a big impact, but Leonard is still Leonard and Serge Ibaka also made a big three. Kings couldn’t convert the other way on multiple occasions and Toronto made them pay. The final score ended at 114-105.
Takeaway #1: Rebounding
The Kings had a poor night rebounding the ball. The purple and white were only able to grab 31 rebounds compared to the Raptors who were able to record 53 rebounds for the game. The Kings also lost the offensive rebounding battle as they only had six as a collective group compared to the Raptors’ 13.
With the Raptors dominating the boards tonight, it gave them more opportunities to score and took away precious offensive possessions from the Kings. Definitely, a huge reason why Toronto is leaving the Golden 1 Center with a victory.
Takeaway #2: Foul Trouble
The sound of whistles was definitely filling up the Golden 1 Center tonight. For the game, both teams combined for a total of 46 personal fouls in which the Kings recorded 26 of them. Foul trouble was definitely a killer for the purple and white as some of their fouls killed their momentum and gave the Raptors more possessions on the offensive end.
Takeaway #3: These Are Not Your Typical Kangz
Although the Kings lost tonight, they are a different squad compared to their teams in the past. Even though the Raptors maintained the lead for most of the game, the Kings never gave up. They continued to fight back to make sure that the game was competitive for the full 48 minutes, which is an encouraging sign that their fans should take from this game.
If tonight displayed a Kings teams from the past, this game might have been a blowout during the third quarter. But instead, the city of Sacramento now has a basketball team that is young, energetic, and tenacious. The Kings are not an easy win anymore.
Sacramento was energetic on defence all night, forcing Toronto into more difficult situations than they faced against the Lakers or the Jazz. On the other end, point guard De’Aaron Fox got off to a quick start, as the Raptors started the game with three turnovers leading to Fox scoring seven of the first nine Kings points.
Fox is becoming a problem for teams around the league, as he showed off the three-point shot he’s added to lightning quickness in this one, making 2-of-4 looks. Fox would finish with 20 points and four assists in 36 minutes, but the Raptors did a pretty good job of limiting his helpers.
Namely this played out in the matchup of Pascal Siakam and Nemanja Bjelica. The latter came in averaging 14.4 points per game, but it was quickly apparent that Siakam was going to annoy the hell out of him. Repeated spin moves, a few ticky tack fouls, and a hearty second quarter Raptors run later, and Bjelica had all but mentally checked out of the game. In 19 minutes, he had zero points on 0-for-5 shooting and four fouls, severely hampering the upside for the Kings. Siakam, on the other hand, was excellent with 21 points on 11 shots, adding three rebounds, two steals, and an assist. Chalk it up to another opponent that’s struggled guarding Siakam’s inside-outside game.
Thanks to Pascal’s great first half, where he carried the second unit to start the second quarter and continued to play well as Nick Nurse transitioned back to the starters, the Raptors were able to build a lead and head into the halftime break up 64-51.
In the third quarter, Kings guard Buddy Hield came alive to chip into the Raptors lead. Hield would score 11 of his 24 points in the quarter, at one point making it a seven-point game to force a Raptors timeout.
“Finding a way. None of those were particularly pretty aside from the Lakers, mand even in that second half we gave them a run,” VanVleet said. “It’s finding a way to win, different ways. I think each of the four games were different in their own right, and that speaks to the versatility and the caliber of team that we have.”
A victory looked uncertain for stretches of Wednesday’s game, even though the Raptors took a first-quarter lead that they held most of the way. The Kings are an enterprising young team that pushes the pace ad nauseam, and the Raptors at times struggled with that energy, it being the fourth road game in six days. Toronto is playing at a much faster pace itself this year and didn’t seem to have much problem running in general, but some sloppiness set in on the turnover front and the Raptors were at their best slowing things down in the half court and feeding Leonard or Pascal Siakam in the post.
“That’s their game. That’s awesome for them,” Kyle Lowry said. “They try to speed it up, but I ain’t that fast, so I slow it down. Ain’t gonna speed me up too much.”
Still, the pressure was successful for Sacramento. A lead that swelled as large as 16 got chipped down to seven in the fourth quarter. Toronto could ill-afford the game getting much closer, and Leonard and Serge Ibaka came through with consecutive threes — a rarity on a night the Raptors shot 30.6 percent from outside — to settle things back down. They’d avoided a fatigue-based collapse and escaped a very hungry team playing a pretty good (and extremely fun) brand of basketball right now.
“I think we were lucky to come out with this one,” Green said. “Go down the line, I think the only thing we beat ’em in was rebounding. But that’s a good sign for us, sort of how good this team could be. We’re having fun with it, enjoying it. Even though it was an ugly night for us, we were able to gut it out, grind it out, come out with a win, which is a good sign for us. Gutted it out, found a way, that’s a good sign early in the year for this ballclub. Things aren’t going well, we’re not shooting well, but we find ways to get it done.”
he Ibaka-JV Combo
It’s a genius move by coach Nick Nurse: playing Ibaka and Valanciunas as two centres, alternating between the starting unit and bench team. It gives the Raptors more rim protection, strength on both units and flexibility with small-ball lineups. All credit here to Nurse for sticking with what he thinks works best for the team. Valanciunas is now averaging 13.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game, with typical 88 percent accuracy from the free throw line. Ibaka meanwhile is averaging a whopping 18 points, 7.4 rebounds, and even 1.1 assists, while shooting almost 60 percent from the floor (59.3 percent).
Name another team that has this same working situation or luxury?
Lowry still wound up with 16 points and eight assists. It was the first time in 10 games that Lowry hadn’t hit double-digits in the assist department, but without asking him about it, we can say with some confidence that he could care less.
It was the win that Lowry and all the other Raptors cared about and they got it despite a spirited effort from the now 6-5 Kings.
If there was a negative to the win it was the sloppiness the Raptors played with. They turned the ball over a season high 23 time leading to 17 points. It didn’t wind up hurting them but it was the second game in a row that the turnovers have been an issue.
With the win the Raptors improved to a best ever start of 11-1.
The team stayed the night in Sacramento and will fly back to Toronto tomorrow on the off day. They will be back in the gym on Friday for practice in advance of Saturday’s game with the New York Knicks.
He’s back: Leonard returned to the starting lineup after missing two full games with left ankle soreness, an injury suffered during the fourth quarter of last Friday’s win over the Phoenix Suns. Leonard put up 25 points, including 9-for-9 from the free-throw line, and 11 rebounds. Sacramento also got a boost with the season debut for Bogdan Bogdanovic, who underwent two procedures on his left knee in the off-season for separate injuries. Bogdanovic, the Kings’ best player last season, received a hearty reception from Sacramento fans before scoring seven points and grabbing two rebounds in 18:26.
Sully: This is the Serge Ibaka I was hoping the Raptors would get out of and hoping to see myself when they traded for him back in 2017. Serge has been excellent on both ends on the floor in being active on D, but most importantly, he isn’t forcing or rushing anything on offense as he used to.
Now, to say that if he can be the third star for Toronto isn’t entirely a reach. I certainly think Ibaka can be a fringe-level All-Star if he further enhances his game, but at the moment, he is forming a solid trio with Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard. What I really mean is that the highest potential for him would be for teams to game-plan for him to take him out of his offensive flow.
Sit back and relax. This isn’t another “Kyle Lowry is actually the Toronto Raptors’ best player” think blurb. He was, and still is, better than DeMar DeRozan. He’s not better than Kawhi Leonard.
That doesn’t matter. Lowry is clearly on a mission this season. Whether he’s out to show the Raptors weren’t a hopeless case as previously constructed or just enjoys spitting in the face of people who don’t think he’s the best point guard in the East, we can’t be sure. We don’t need to be. His numbers do all the talking.
Lowry has upped his scoring without increasing his volume. He’s attempting fewer shots per 36 minutes than last year. The difference is in his efficiency. He’s notching a career-best true shooting percentage, and he hasn’t reached the rim this often since playing in Houston.
Oh, he also happens to be leading the league in assists. Yes, the league. The. Entire. Damn. League. This reads unsustainable at first glance. It might not be.
“NBA defenses are predicated on arranging layers of help between the ball and the basket, which leaves them vulnerable to sudden, dramatic changes in direction,” SI.com’s Rob Mahoney wrote. “Lowry effectively runs a longitudinal reverse, priming the defense to move outward before setting up a teammate to cut back inside.”
Lowry’s offensive moves are tougher to detect than most of his peers’. He may have the most nonchalant pull-up jumper in the game. Defenses can sort of sense when Stephen Curry is going to turn loose; they just can’t do anything about it. Lowry more so wanders into his pull-up threes.
Preparing for that, his drives and changes of direction are impossible to stop. The Raptors’ next-level spacing has made his job easier and the defense’s responsibility unmanageable, and it shows in the win-loss column.
OverDrive hosts Bryan Hayes, Jeff O’Neill and Jamie McLennan are joined by TSN NBA analyst Jack Armstrong to get his take on Kyle Lowry’s impressive start that seems to be flying under the radar with other Raps performing so well.
This season has actually been a delight so far. These new Spurs have managed to maintain those key Spursy principles of being steadfastly consistent, well prepared, and hard working. Popovich is still here, instilling in both the team and the fanbase a reliable sense of confidence. LaMarcus Aldridge is coming into his own as a leader, Patty Mills is continuing to morph into a full-on folk hero, and DeMar DeRozan has turned out to be an incredible player, person and story to rally behind. In fact, while I was off getting in my feelings at Staples, DeRozan was busy charging down the lane and adding another clip to his already amazing Spurs Highlight reel. On a local level, fans are as passionate as they’ve ever been. On a national level, people are as perplexed as always about how the Spurs manage to keep pulling this off. The Spurs are still the Spurs. Was that maybe what I was actually worried about this whole time?
I guess I’m still a little sad about how last season went down. It was ugly and it was weird and, at the end of the day, both sides looked bad. It felt like the Spurs that we knew were falling apart in front of us, and there was nothing we could do to stop it. But that wasn’t really the case, was it? Kawhi leaving doesn’t erase the glory of the Duncan-era Spurs any more than Duncan leaving does. Those banners are still in the rafters and those memories are still in our hearts.
One night of watching Kawhi in Los Angeles was never going to change anything, I think I just would’ve liked to have seen him play again. He was fun to watch.
He still is.